On a whim (and an airplane), I flew to Melbourne Australia for 4 days in 2016 when my wife was attending a work conference there. After the event, we ambled around the waterfront and stopped into a bar for a cocktail. On the television over the bar, we watched as a con-man was elected the 45th US president. In response, my wife said, “Well, I guess we live here now.” By lucky coincidence, Melbourne has long been one of the world's most livable cities.
What makes Melbourne Australia so damn livable?
The title of World's Most Livable Cities is an informal name given to a list of cities annually ranked on their living conditions. To qualify as “livable,” a city must provide clean water, clean air, adequate food and shelter, along with a sense of community and hospitable settings for all. So, right there, Cleveland is out of the running.
On the other hand, Melbourne (pronounced “Melbin”) aced their “livability” test without breaking a sweat. As one of only five major cities on the whole Australian continent (dream on, Wollongong), Melbourne is Australia's second-most populous and fastest-growing city. Both for very good reasons.
There's been lots of investment in the city's industries, which has created more new jobs in Melbourne than any other Australian city. The resulting influx of people looking for those jobs has driven property prices to historical highs, along with widespread rent increases city-wide. Hooray!
But one big reason for doing so well on the “livability” ranking could be the fact that climate change may make the rest of the continent uninhabitable.
Why Melbourne has the coldest weather in Australia.
Before I go any further, I feel it's important to inform you that Australia—and therefore Melbourne, as well—resides on the underside of the sphere that is our planet, Earth. I know that seems obvious to anyone with a brain, but some of those without them think that Australia doesn't exist at all.
Australia demonstratively does exist. It's in the Southern Hemisphere, which is everything below the equator including South America, about whose existence, the jury is still apparently out on as well. The equator is an East/West line running around the planet's diameter and widest part. Anything along that line is closest to the Sun, and therefore the warmest part of the planet (ignoring the tilt of Earth's axis, of course).
Why the condescending science lesson? Because Melbourne's location on the southernmost coast of Australia makes it, counterintuitively, the country's coldest city. Whaa…? Yeah, it's the furthest Australian city away from the equator. As a result, Melbourne's average temperature range is between 43°F and 77°F. Sure, that sounds pretty temperate, but it can actually be pretty annoying.
The weather in Melbourne is insanely unpredictable due to warm fronts coming down from the equator, and frigid air coming up from Antarctica. Mixed together, you can go through all four seasons in the same day. Australia's other major cities, like Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth, are further north—i.e., closer to the equator—and therefore only hospitable to Satan and his minions of damned souls.
Australia's “Batman” was more disappointing than Joel Schumacher's.
A very real person with the very fake-sounding name of John Batman arrived at Port Philip in Hobsons Bay around June 1835 with the goal of establishing a new settlement. From the bay, he sailed up the Yarra River, soon finding a place that inspired him to scrawl those immortal words, “This will be the place for a village.” Mr. Batman, it seems, wasn't a great writer, but he was a decent liar.
Batman claimed to have purchased 500,000 acres of land from local tribes who, frankly, don't remember ever signing anything. Undaunted by pesky legal issues, Batman nonetheless established his settlement on the northern bank of the Yarra River and declared it “Batmania” with a totally straight face.
After a year of ridicule and bad superhero jokes, the town was renamed “Melbourne” after Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria's prime minister by day and caped crusader by night. The “Detective Comics presents Lord Melbourne!” series was very popular at the turn of the century.
Three years later, Batman died of syphilis, leaving his convict wife and seven convict daughters penniless until they sold their father's naming rights to Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939.
There's more to like about Melbourne Australia than its temperate climate.
Melbourne feels very much like San Francisco (pre-tech) or Madrid in that they're all fairly large cities, without feeling too compressed or hectic. There's a very friendly, casual vibe happening in the city that's hard to explain, but easy to like.
You immediately get the impression that you could live here, assuming you could afford to, which few people can these days.
Despite some beautiful Victorian buildings from the 1850s, most of the architecture in the city feels extremely modern and up to code. Oh, and all the huge parks mean that Melbourne doesn't seem like a concrete jungle, either. The King's Domain park area, for example, includes the Royal Botanical Gardens, which provide enough green to make you wonder where the damn city went.
Getting lost in the Royal Botanic Gardens is easy.
Melbourne's scenic Royal Botanic Gardens were founded on the banks of the Yarra River in 1846. The Royal Gardens are, without a doubt, one of the most impressive Royal Gardens of their kind in the Southern Hemisphere. They not only offer incredible native- as well as foreign-plant species, but there are also monuments like the Shrine of Remembrance (see below) to act as landmarks and temporary shelter until Emergency Services can find you. It's a nice break from always knowing where you are at any given moment.
Melbourne's unforgettable Shrine of Remembrance.
Located within the King's Domain parklands, and within the Royal Botanic Gardens, is Melbourne's iconic Shrine of Remembrance. It's an inspiring structure built high atop a hill with sweet vistas of the gardens and the downtown city skyline.
It was originally a national memorial built to honor the service and sacrifice of Victorians killed in World War I, but now provides a place of remembrance for all Australian military veterans and a great photo-op location for annoying tourists like us.
The shrine's climbable architecture is favorably compared to the “Tomb of Mausolus” in Athens, Greece. Its construction was especially impressive when you consider that, despite Great Depression-style unemployment and financial difficulty, the grateful Australian people raised enough funds to build this memorial within six months. In America, you can't even get an appointment with a loan officer in that short a time-frame.
Flinders Street Station and Federation Square.
Opened in 1854, Flinders Street railway station can be found right in Melbourne's CBD (Central Business District). Honestly, it's not easy to miss. The orange-ish building still functions as an operational railway station, as well as a well-lit public meeting place for sketchy Tinder date meetings and FB Marketplace purchase exchanges.
The Flinders Street Station (not to be confused with the Flanders Leftorium) is another great example of Melbourne's colonial architecture. The station is an impressive Edwardian style structure featuring a prominent blue-ish dome that kinda looks like a cross between Futurama's DonBot and PreacherBot. Across from the station is Federation Square, one of the primary meeting points for tourist groups, tour operators, and tourists looking for their tour groups.
St. Kilda Beach is a sandy suburb outside Melbourne.
St Kilda is a bayside suburb located on one of the more picturesque points of the Bay, just a short distance south of downtown. Once quite fashionable with clean, safe beaches, it quickly became populated with large mansions, fancy cars, and douchebags.
Only decades later, St. Kilda became Ground Zero for crime, prostitution, and drugs. Now, thanks to skyrocketing housing prices, the beach has returned to its former glory and cost-of-living, pricing out all but the most successful crime-lords, hookers, and drug dealers.
New development in the area—including apartments, restaurants, and cafés—have made St. Kilda a Mecca for tourists and locals alike. The boardwalk offers great water sports, swimming, and a 360° panorama of the city. Another popular activity here is penguin spotting—at night, to make it harder.
Tourists can also bring their kids to Luna Park, a nightmare-inducing amusement park whose entrance is the gaping maw of a horrifying clown-face. It features a wooden roller-coaster and many other rides that likely won't kill your kids, but will definitely traumatize them.
Melbourne is Australia's “cultural capital,” but is that saying a lot?
As Australia's artistic mecca, Melbourne has many fine restaurants, great museums, and two professional hockey teams. Unfortunately, much like Lisbon, this city also has a surprising amount of graffiti, or what the Australians confusingly insist on calling, “street art.”
Several laneways (aka, “alleys”) showcase a wide range of street art in styles that were once popular throughout New York City in the '70s and '80s. But to be fair, Melbourne is a long distance from NYC, so it probably took awhile for “street art chic” to get here. Hopefully, the fad will be over in a few years here, too.
Nonetheless, Melbourne Australia has gained international acclaim for embracing the rebellious acts of youthful delinquents, ne'er-do-wells, and scofflaws, rather than fining their punk-asses AU$24,000 and sending them to prison for 2 years, like the law requires.
Law enforcement's laissez-faire approach to this rampant teen lawlessness makes more sense when you consider that, by calling their laneway defacement problem “art,” the government of Melbourne saves buckets of budget money that they'd otherwise have had to spend power-washing it all off.
And that money that could be much better utilized busting women for wearing hot-pink hot-pants after midday on a Sunday. I mean, if I were a cop…I know which law I'd prefer enforcing. I guess what I'm saying is that Australian laws are weird.
The Melbourne food scene has something for everyone, even perverts.
When we first arrived in Melbourne Australia, we stopped into Boat Builders Yard for a bite and a drink. This river-side café in downtown has a lovely view of the Docklands waterfront. We had their pulled pork tater tots which, regrettably, no longer appear on their menu. Still, the place is highly recommended, as they offer other tasty, but non-tater-tot-based cuisine, too.
We went to a number of fine dining establishments while we were in Melbourne, yet we somehow managed to miss visiting a place called, “Schnitzel and Tits.” How? I have no idea.
This cheeky dinner-theater restaurant—or, is it a burlesque bar?—ostensibly offers groups of horny incels a night out from their parent's basement. The “dinner” is apparently German food, and the “show” is blatant female objectification and titillation for unattractive guys who've already exhausted their options on Tinder.
Getting around Melbourne Australia without renting a car.
Melbourne is a very walkable and inexpensive city to get around, with a great network of public transport—including trains, trams, buses, and bike-sharing.
Just be warned that, like Amsterdam and other pedestrian-friendly cities, the bicyclists here are weirdly aggressive. I guess without so many cars around, the bicyclists feel like they have to fill the rage-void. So keep your head on a swivel and avoid walking in the bike lanes.
Another way to see the city is by “rowing crew.” The Yarra River runs through Melbourne, and at least one shell must be present on the river at all times. Not sure if that's the actual law, but it sure seems to be.
City Circle Tram (#35) will save your feet from blisters.
For a fast feel for the city of Melbourne, take the free tourist tram (City Circle Tram #35). It basically traces the outer edge of the Central Business District (CDB) in about 50-minutes, taking you to most of the city's major tourist attractions.
Approximately every 12 minutes, the trams run in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions (similar to counterclockwise in the US) so you never have to wait too long for a lift.
Though the City Circle Tram only opened in 1994, the line harkens back to the 19th Century when Andrew Hallidie, a manufacturer of steel wire rope, developed the first cable car system for San Francisco. His approach was a significant improvement over the previous horse-drawn trams in that horses didn't keep dying in the streets so much.
Shortly after the cable car's debut in 1873, Francis Boardman Clapp and the Melbourne Omnibus Company brought the technology to Australia. Fifty years later, Melbourne's cable cars were all converted to electric trams and horses were finally allowed to ride inside them. Tragically, horses still aren't allowed to vote in this backward country.
Melbourne Australia was once the richest city in the world.
Prior to the 1850s, Victoria was just a sparse Australian state with a population of only 75,000 people, about 20% of whom were British felons, colloquially known as “politicians.” Yet, the population understandably exploded once gold was discovered there.
The inevitable gold rush of 1851 led to massive population growth, and a period of great prosperity for Melbourne, Victoria's new financial capital. Dubbed “Marvelous Melbourne,” the city was a major boomtown during the late 19th Century.
Gold-diggers shipped themselves over to Australia by the tens of thousands—initially from Britain, but then from the world—followed quickly by a large number of prostitutes. By the 1860s, Melbourne's population had grown to 500,000, only a third of which were sex workers.
The 25 million ounces of gold that was mined during that period is worth about $10 billion today. It was a sudden influx of wealth that inspired the development of expensive Victorian buildings like the Parliament House, the Old Treasury Building, State Library Victoria, Post Office, Customs House, the Town Hall, and St Patrick's cathedral.
The good times all came to an end, however, with the bank crash of 1891. As the epicenter of speculative construction (“Build it, and they will pay rent”), Melbourne's optimistic over-investment caused the largest bank in Victoria to melt down.
Melbourne Australia in a nutshell.
Like I said at the beginning, Melbourne is a fine city and well worth a visit if you like long airline flights and don't mind listening to people butcher the English language. (I mean, the locals say they're speaking English—at least I think that's what they said, they're very hard to understand.) Sure, the Brits were dicks to Aussies for a long time, but when the Aussies speak, it kinda sounds like they're taking their anger out on the language itself.
Luckily, most of the people we met here were every shade of lovely and almost Canadian-nice. Yeah. That's why we briefly considered moving to Melbourne. But is it worth just visiting for a holiday? Well, there aren't a lot of compelling must-see sights to see in Melbourne Australia, such as a Golden Gate Bridge or an Eiffel Tower or anything, but you definitely won't be disappointed if you go there. Unless, of course, you went there to see the Golden Gate Bridge or the Eiffel Tower, because if that's the case, I've got some bad news for you.